LAS VEGAS--T-Mobile USA may be down, but it's not out.
T-Mobile struck a defiant tone today and is making sure to be heard: At the Consumer Electronics Show the company unveiled its latest high-end smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G, Samsung Galaxy-class handset. It also said it has expanded its HSPA+ network, which it calls 4G, to 12 additional markets, and added mobile instant-messaging capabilities to its Internet-based Bobsled service.
Many questions remain on where T-Mobile goes after AT&T scrapped a deal to take over the carrier. The company has for months talked about its inability to continue on its own in the U.S., both lacking the spectrum to further upgrade its network to 4G LTE, and the willingness by its parent, Deutsche Telekom, to make such investments. But without AT&T, T-Mobile is back on the path it had set before the deal, positioning itself as an independent and disruptive influence in the industry.
"We are here, in fighting shape, and we will compete aggressively to win and retain customers by delivering compelling 4G services -- all at a great value," said T-Mobile CEO Philipp Humm, admitting that the past nine months have been rough.
Humm cracked that T-Mobile got three gifts for the holidays: a breakup fee of $3 billion, spectrum, and roaming agreements with AT&T.
T-Mobile has also undercut the competition with competitive pricing plans. Its cheapest individual plan, which includes unlimited voice minutes and text messages and 200 megabytes of data at regular speeds, costs $69.99, while a bundled plan with two lines costs as little as $49.99 for each line.
While the company continues to cede more lucrative contract subscribers to its competitors, it has done reasonably well in the prepaid business. The company offers a no-contract option and a monthly payment option so customers don't have to make a huge upfront payment to buy its best smartphones. Other larger carriers require a two-year service plan to get the best rates for its top smartphones.
T-Mobile plans to "evolve" its brand and will be more open to wholesale opportunities, Humm said.
"We're going to start our plan to reinvigorate our business," he said, without disclosing any details.
The latest such phone is the Blaze 4G. The phone features a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip running a 1.5 gigahertz dual-core processor, a super Amoled touch screen, and preloaded entertainment content. The company was light on details, and didn't provide a date for availability or pricing information. The device will be able to tap into the fastest version of T-Mobile's HSPA+ network
Last year at CES, T-Mobile announced the upgrade of its HSPA+ network, which would provide theoretical peak speeds of up to 42 megabits per second (real speeds are far lower). Prior to the Blaze 4G, only the Amaze 4G and original Samsung Galaxy S II could tap into that network.
In addition to the Blaze, T-Mobile will expand its HSPA+42 network to 12 additional markets, covering 184 million people in 175 markets. It has also expanded its slower HSPA+21 network to nine new markets, and a total of 217.
AT&T will provide T-Mobile with spectrum in 128 markets, including 12 of the top 20 markets, which T-Mobile believes should help its network prospects in the U.S.
"Our 4G network is better than ever heading into 2012," said Neville Ray, T-Mobile's chief technology officer. "HSPA+ will continue to deliver a competitive mobile broadband experience for our customers in the coming years as we evaluate our options for continued investment and evolution of our 4G network."
Those options would presumably include 4G LTE, which all of the other major carriers (as well as the smaller prepaid ones) are either already rolling out or plan to. While T-Mobile is getting by with HSPA+ as its 4G service, it'll quickly become apparent that the carrier is falling behind with the rest of the competition.
Over the past few months, the company has been hurt by the uncertainty surrounding the looming takeover. But with the deal behind it, T-Mobile is looking to set a clear direction as it works to turn itself around.
One such initiative has been its Bobsled service, which initially launched as a Web-based calling service on Facebook. The project is T-Mobile's attempt to cross over into different carriers and devices (including the iPhone) and generate revenue from advertising and in-app purchases of additional services. The company said today that users on Android and iOS would be able to use Bobsled's application to send free messages to any device, social network, and country.
Whether Bobsled or any of its other initiatives pay off remains to be seen. But it's clear the carrier is approaching things differently than its peers in the industry. Then again, it probably has to.
Updated at 5:39 p.m. PT: to add comments from the CEO and to clarify that the Blaze 4G is a Galaxy-class phone.